Supermarkets call on UK Government to lift barriers to renewable energy investment

The Co-op has convened Tesco, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer and other organisations to issue a rallying cry to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, urging his Government to remove policy barriers to renewable energy development.

Supermarkets call on UK Government to lift barriers to renewable energy investment

The supermarkets, along with Community Energy England, the Central Co-op and the Midcounties Co-operative, have penned an open letter to Sunak warning that the Government is unlikely to meet its 2030 and 2035 renewables targets without more concerted policy action.

The Energy Security Strategy published in April is headlined by a commitment for 95% of the UK’s electricity mix to be low-carbon by 2030 – i.e. accounted for by nuclear, renewables or ‘abated’ gas. This should rise to 100% by 2035.

Independent research by Cornwall Insight, commissioned by the Co-op, revealed that less than 60% of the UK’s electricity mix will be accounted for by renewable generation by 2030, up from around 39% at present. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has recommended that renewables should make up 70% of the mix by 2035.

To close this gap, the letter calls on Sunak to work with businesses to unlock remaining policy and regulatory barriers to renewable energy investment and development. The same Cornwall Insight research concluded that only 18.5% of the planned renewable generation capacity in the UK’s pipeline is ‘highly likely’ to be developed as planned.

The letter recommends an overhaul of the planning system to fast-track the development of new wind and solar schemes. The Government acknowledged, under Liz Truss, that the planning process for offshore wind farms had been growing longer and that this would need to be rectified for the UK to meet key climate, energy and economic ambitions. However, both Truss and Sunak have been vocal advocates of making solar developments more challenging to complete on agricultural land.

Sunak is also, at present, facing a rebellion from more than 20 Conservative MPs who want to see planning laws loosened around offshore wind. Led by Simon Clarke MP, the MPs are backing an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill so that it would be easier for developers to erect onshore wind farms in areas where locals support development.

The letter also recommends that the Government brings forward measures to support community energy organisations and presses ahead with its measures to ensure that homes and businesses purchasing renewable electricity are paying less than those using higher-carbon electricity and gas.

Additionally, the businesses want to see joined-up fiscal and financial action that holistically incentivises investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

The letter calls any potential future failure to accelerate the energy transition “a missed economic, security and environmental opportunity”. “We would very much welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss how together we can seize the opportunities ahead of us,” it concludes.

Elaborating on the letter, the Co-op’s chief executive Shirine Khoury-Haq said:  “The energy market is at a crisis point and we need urgent Government action to deliver energy security, drive economic growth and move us closer to net-zero. The UK is still too reliant on fossil fuels and we need to create more UK renewable energy to green the energy grid.”

At present, around 40% of the UK’s electricity generation is gas-fired. More than 90% of UK homes are centrally heated using fossil boilers.

Khoury-Haq added: “The Co-op is directly sourcing energy from a solar farm and will have even more of its energy coming from such sources in the future as part of a multi-million pound programme to increase the proportion of directly funded renewable energy we use.

“Grid decarbonisation isn’t going fast enough and the Government needs to incentivise investment in it and push through planning reforms to allow rapid progress for onshore and offshore developments.”

The Government last week confirmed that it has once again picked up the Energy Security Bill, which is designed to set up the policies to deliver many of the pledges outlined in the Energy Security Strategy. The Bill was introduced when Kwarteng was Energy Secretary and its passage was paused amid the Conservative Party leadership races from September onwards.

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